A law prohibiting employers from asking job applicants to disclose their criminal background during any point in the hiring process was passed, 6-1, by the Richmond City Council recently. It is among the nation’s most comprehensive “ban-the-box” laws, according to an article in the Huffington Post. The “box” in question is the place on applications where applicants often must check that they have a criminal background.
Several dozen municipalities across the country, including Oakland, have enacted similar legislation. Richmond’s ordinance exempts job seekers from disclosing a criminal background either during interviews or after they are hired.
“We’re going to have a lot of folks coming
back from incarceration and looking
for work here soon”
Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles, who introduced the legislation, told the Post, “We’ve really taken it up a notch. By introducing one of the most comprehensive plans in the country, our hope is to reduce unemployment and recidivism in Richmond and give these people who want to, a chance to make a change.”
Beckles noted the timeliness of the ordinance, especially as California braces for the impact of Assembly Bill 109, a bill aimed at reducing prison overcrowding by redirecting low-level offenders back to their counties of commitment.
“We’re going to have a lot of folks coming back from incarceration and looking for work here soon,” she said.
The ordinance makes an exception for “sensitive” jobs, including employment working with children and the elderly or positions in law enforcement.
Advocates of ban-the-box laws say it helps give people with criminal backgrounds a chance to rejoin the workforce and make a positive impact on society.
“Once we pay our debt, I think the playing field should be fair,” former inmate Andres Abarra, who served 16 months for selling heroin, told The Wall Street Journal. Abarra was fired from his first job out of prison after a background check.
The practice is not uncommon, according to Linda Evans, an organizer with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. “We believe, and we know from speaking with employers, that many times if someone checks the box ‘yes, I have a past conviction,’ that application is thrown in the garbage,” Evans said in a You Tube video.
“We try to point out to the employers that there are many highly qualified people who have had some kind of interaction with the law who would be an asset to their employment pool.”
Councilman Tom Butt, the lone dissenter on the council vote, told the Richmond Pulse that he agrees with the sentiment of ban-the-box, but that the Richmond ordinance goes too far. “This Richmond ordinance pushes it way beyond what was done before, and employers should have discretion.”
Detractors lament the ban-the-box laws, saying it puts employers in a possibly dangerous position. “We have the responsibility to protect our customers, protect other employees and then the company itself,” said Kelly Knott, of the National Retail Federation.
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